Teaching the Personality Profile
Wenatchee High School
Title: Teaching the Personality Profile
Summary: In my Beginning Journalism course, I teach a three-week features unit that includes a personality profile as the final project.
- Students will write a comprehensive personality profile feature that demonstrates knowledge of the Wall Street Journal formula of feature writing and the concept of show, don't tell.
- Students will evaluate information, Selecting an appropriate angle and information and finding perspective sources.
- Students will experience a press conference interview situation.
- Introduction to the final feature: requirements, read sample profile (I use one about Olympic athlete Amy Van Dyken), explain the press conference format.
- Press conference - all students will profile the same person, usually a well-known teacher in the building. Students prepare questions based on background information and the angle each wants to take.
- Two additional interviews for perspective are required. Must also include five direct quotes and one anecdote.
- Final story is 400-800 words.
- Background information: The profilee has provided a basic outline of his or her life (education, employment, family, hobbies, interests, awards) so that students may form questions and so they may avoid asking for this basic information during the press conference.
- Instruction on perspective interviews; read student examples; grammar mini-lesson on active vs. passive voice.
- Complete background information; prepare questions; finalize procedures (students responsible for first and last questions, etc.)
- Here is what I tell the subject of the profile:
- Please arrive within two minutes of the start of class and plan to stay until the end.
- There is a stool for you to sit on at the front of the room. The overhead will display your biographical information as a reference.
- Students have prepared questions. Someone has been assigned the first question and that person will welcome you and initiate the questioning. After you answer the first question, call on anyone.
- Try to see that everyone has the chance to ask at least one question.
- You can take as long as you like to answer a question and if you don't want to answer, just explain why (but the students won't be asking anything too personal, I think).
- It helps the students if you can be linear in your responses. Don't try to sound scripted, but if you can start and finish a sentence, it helps.
- Someone has also been assigned the last question. When it is time, that person will stand up and explain the last question. Answer it and you're done.
- Students will also be interviewing your colleagues and students about you. That helps them have a different story than everyone else. So don't be surprised if people say they were interviewed about you.
- Press conference. Profilee answers questions. Each student should ask at least one; everyone records responses.
- Debrief press conference using these procedures:
- Freely write for five minutes - anecdotes, physical description and your thoughts of the profilee. (I stretch this out for another two or three minutes.) Force the free write.
- Discuss why these ideas are the ones that "stick."
- Students should have one page or more of writing. In the margin, have students place a star next to each anecdote and a plus next to description.
- Discuss press conference: How did it go? What do you remember? This gets students to paraphrase ideas and helps those who did not take accurate notes or those who were absent.
- Check information and reach consensus. This is also a good check with instructor, too, who may have missed some information.
- Refer to Planner (which asks about angle and tie-in to lead) and begin writing. Get students to focus on the one most interesting thing about this person. What would they tell their friends/parents/neighbors about this person if they only had one sentence? That's the key thought.
- After this, writing 400-800 words should be no problem.
- Draft 1 due. Peer editing with checklist; read aloud with partner; editing and revising; student examples available.
- Drafting and refining; teacher conference (optional).
- Final due. Self-evaluation: What was the best part about your profile? What could have been improved? What skill do you think improved the most? What is your goal for the next writing assignment?
Students will have been exposed to feature writing, including a basic "how-to;" reading and discussing Jon Franklin's "Mrs. Kelly's Monster;" comparison of news and features, especially leads; inverted pyramid vs. Wall Street Journal formula/"full circle" and observation.
A key here is to have plenty of examples and to assist students in finding the key thought - What makes this person interesting? Present that person's story. Writers must avoid the temptation to just give biographical information, particularly in chronological order. Emphasize the concept of "show, don't tell."
- Assignment instruction sheet with specific guidelines and requirements
- Planner that will help students organize questions, type of lead, conclusion tie-in to lead, physical description and sources for perspective
- Professional and student examples
- Grading rubric that reflects requirements from assignment sheet plus conventions (AP style; spelling, punctuation and grammar; third-person)